Academics Blog

Museums and Society

Name: Ryan Bender

Year: Class of 2015

Hometown: Los Alamitos, CA

Majors: International Studies & History of Art

Minor: Museums and Society

Coming into freshman year, I was completely bewildered by the process of picking a major; I wanted to study everything Hopkins has to offer.  I was ecstatic to find this unique interdisciplinary Program in Museums and Society, because museums classes have made my Hopkins experience exciting!  In one place, I can pursue all my favorite subjects, from economics to biology, art history to political science, by studying the world through the distinctive lens of the museum in society.

Some have asked me, “Ryan, why is the museums program only a minor, is it because they don’t have enough professors, or is there just not enough to study?”  To that, I always reply most definitely not!  After participating in museum theory classes, practicum courses, and museum internships at Hopkins, I fully support this program as a minor.  The museum minor adds an enriched dimension and perspective to any major, be it political science, chemistry, or mechanical engineering.  The museums program teaches students how the museum industry taps the individual expertise of professionals from all fields, which is why there are so many types of museums to visit in the world.  I was excited to learn that jobs within the scope of the museum industry range tremendously and include artists, lawyers, businessmen, scientific researchers, art curators, and preservationists.  All in all, the program offers a valuable education to any student at Hopkins who is seeking a niche in the professional world.

It is the unique classes in the museums minor that make the program sensational.  Two required survey courses, “Intro to the Museum: Past and Present” and “Introduction to the Museum: Issues and Ideas”, give students an introduction to the world of museums.  I was lucky enough to take the first of these courses with the head of the department, Professor Elizabeth Rodini.  The class had fewer than thirty-five students.  Because of the small size, the class was a perfect combination of lecture and in-class discussion, a gem among usually large-scale intro courses at Hopkins.   Honestly, I was worried that because I didn’t want to be a curator, the program and its classes would not be for me.  Luckily, Professor Rodini took the time to sit down with me and show me some alternate career paths in the museum industry that I had never thought about, including intellectual property law, the business of art auctioning, and museum marketing.   Professor Rodini’s intro class was outstanding!  I learned about the historic role of museums as the first scientific laboratories, as pioneering centers for public education, and as showplaces for royal power among the monarchies in Europe.

The four other courses required in the minor indicate the program’s interdisciplinary nature.  At least two of these four additional courses must be cross-listed with a department outside of Museums.  There are classes in History of Art, Near Eastern studies, and International Studies, among others.  Classes which qualify, such as “Heaven on Earth: Art, Culture and Wonder in the Vatican Museum and Library” give students a way to see the museum on a global scale.  One of the required courses is a “practicum” course, a hands-on introduction to the museum industry.  In this class, museum staff from different Baltimore museums take students through both the theoretical and material process of setting up a museum exhibit.  My practicum course, “Staging Suburbia”, was taught at the Jewish Museum of Maryland.  During the semester, I was involved in putting together a traveling exhibit which documented the historical migration of Baltimore Jews from the city to the suburbs.  I took memorable field trips to Baltimore suburbs, and researched pop culture magazines and artifacts from the 1940s and 1950s, including Life magazine and the Baltimore Sun newspaper.  This class was an amazing opportunity to learn how to create an exhibit from start to finish, and to network with key players in the Baltimore museum industry.

My favorite museum class so far is one which I took during intersession 2012 with Professor Rodini.  “Paris: Museums, Monuments and Cultural Memory” was a three week study abroad course taught in Paris, a mecca for museums of all kinds.  With seven other students, I made it to twenty-two Parisian museums, including the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Palace at Versailles, and even the Perfume Museum!  Our class walked the streets eating crepes, and talked about the importance of museums in making Paris the cultural center it is today.  We studied the role of the museum in telling Paris’ rocky immigrant history, and the use of museums as a proponent of the French Revolution after the fall of the French monarchy.   The trip was a blast; a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tour Paris with a renowned art historian and museums scholar, learn about the history of the city outside of the classroom, and eat delicious French pastries, all while earning three credits in the museums minor.  During the class, I was both immersed in and studying Parisian history, culture, and society, an unmatched approach to examining a very specific case study in the museum field.


Within the university community, the museums department has been helpful in obtaining a rare internship.  As an intern through the JHU Department of Cultural Properties, I will be helping to set up a cabinet of wonders installation in the Brody Learning Commons, the newest building in the JHU library system.  A cabinet of wonders, or a wunderkammer, incorporates the most fascinating and unusual objects from every field of human study, in this case including each department at JHU.  In conjunction with the Department of Cultural Properties, I will be creating and publishing a field guide for the special exhibit, and documenting the history of Johns Hopkins as the first dedicated American research university.  This internship has provided me a unique publishing opportunity for an undergraduate in the humanities, and serves as an example of the fascinating doors the museum program can open.

A high interest academic springboard, the museums program has offered me a niche to focus on in my broader Hopkins education.  I hope to use my JHU education to go on to law school to study intellectual property law, before moving on to work as a lawyer within a major art museum.  I am sure that my experience in the museums field will connect me to the inner workings in the field of art law.  Whether or not I end up working in a museum, I know that my education in the museum field will have given me a better understanding of how people interact in the public sphere, and will help me in whatever career my future holds.

No matter what major you plan to focus on during your time at Hopkins, the Program in Musuems and Society is a great supplement.  I have developed unbelievable strong connections during my short time in the program, with professors, other students, and industry leaders.  If you want to develop a unique way to market yourself in a competitive job market, and have a great time while doing it, the Program in Musuems and Society is the minor for you!


Click here to access more information about the Museums and Society Undergraduate Program of Study.

To further your exploration of this academic program and ask any question you may have of current students, be sure to visit the Hopkins Forums’ Academics: The Insider Perspective and the Museums and Society question thread.